Rein In the Obsession Over Opioids

Rein In the Obsession Over Opioids December 2, 2019

We have a real problem with opioids in this country. Actually we have two opposite problems — overprescription and underprescription. Some doctors handed them out so indiscriminately that it created a black market where people sold their pills for a lot of money. But the response to that has been a classic overcorrection that is causing serious problems for those of us who need them sometimes.

I’m lucky. My doctor doesn’t let fear keep him from giving me what I need when I need them, which isn’t often. He knows me, trusts me and knows that I won’t ask for them unless I really need them. He gave me low-dose oxycodone 3 weeks ago when I broke my fingers and it helped enormously. I now need something different due to some serious chest pain (not my heart, which is fine; it’s either muscle or nerve and it’s the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, worse than kidney stones, and the oxy is barely touching it. I expect to talk to him tomorrow and that we’ll try something different, perhaps fentanyl patches.

Others, like my brother, are not so lucky. He is in constant terrible pain after 11 or 12 knee surgeries, two shoulder surgeries and multiple back surgeries. He needs another knee replacement and another shoulder surgery as well. One look at his x-rays and a doctor should give him whatever he needs. He won’t take anything stronger than Norco anyway, which is a very low-level opioid painkiller. He’s clearly not trying to get them to sell them, he needs them. Badly. But it’s so difficult for him to get them.

Amber Petrovich writes about her experiences:

Hi, Orthopedic Surgeon, it’s me. Your patient, who’s having double knee surgery for two torn menisci and two Baker’s cysts. You saw my MRIs and diagnosed the tears. So can we acknowledge I’m not some random ER patient complaining about indefinable back pain?

You know what I’m also not doing? I’m not exhibiting the drug-seeking behavior of a potential abuser. But do I want some opioids for my injury? Yes, please, absolutely. Five to eight pills would be perfect…

But in this era of epic prescription-painkiller abuse, many doctors seem to view all patients as potential junkies not to be trusted with even the smallest amount of respite from the pain of a diagnosed injury…

Right now, the overprescribing seems to have prompted an overcorrection. I like to think I have an enormous sense of social responsibility, but right now, I’m looking out for me. I don’t want opioids so I can get high or do drug sales. I want them because they can temporarily combat the relentless drag and occasional depression that accompany injury pain. And forget about me, what about other people with far more intense and/or chronic pain, such as cancer patients, whose suffering tends to be undertreated even without the new wariness of writing opioid prescriptions?

Yes, we need to combat overprescribing and the black market it’s created. But we shouldn’t let that necessity cause unnecessary suffering for those with chronic or occasional serious pain. Stop the overcorrection!

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